North Carolina is one step closer to harvesting offshore wind energy – this time for an area off the state’s southern coastline known as “Carolina Long Bay.”
New documents released this week from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management describe a plan with less impact to the environment than initially predicted several years ago – and proponents say it’s good news for wind energy, even as their conservative counterparts say the process is being rushed.
On Wednesday, BOEM posted a draft of what’s called a “supplemental environmental assessment,” which analyzes the potential impact of a wind project inside that tract. It’s a document intended to precede a lease sale for acreage off the coastline known as the Wilmington East Wind Energy Area, offshore of both Carolinas. The area being proposed for a lease takes up nearly 128,000 acres and has the potential to unlock more than 1.5 gigawatts of offshore wind energy, enough to power more than 500,000 homes.
Wilmington East is the second North Carolina tract to be prioritized in this way.
In 2017, Avangrid Renewables, with a $9.1 million bid, won a lease auction for a tract known as “Kitty Hawk” to the north. At the time, BOEM didn’t include acreage in Carolina Long Bay “due to concerns over visual impacts” along the beaches of both North and South Carolina. And part of the area included a critical habit area for right whales.
Over the years the plan was tweaked, documents released this week show. Areas overlapping that critical habitat area, as well as acreage used for Department of Defense training, “were removed from leasing consideration,” the assessment notes.
Pro-wind groups say that’s a good thing.
“BOEM says the environmental impact is even less than they estimated five years ago due to things like removing right whale critical habitat … using meteorological buoys instead of fixed bottom met towers, and more research having been conducted on the area,” said Katharine Kollins, president of the Southeastern Wind Coalition.
But Jon Sanders, an economist with the right leaning John Locke Foundation, said the project is still being rushed, pointing to a Trump-era offshore energy exploration moratorium set to go into effect next July.
“Here BOEM announces a raft of new information on the Wilmington East Energy Area … unsurprisingly, given the administration’s haste, all of this new information is made out to be neutral to favorable to the project,” he said, adding that, despite the “political haste,” the document doesn’t contain any facts making offshore wind a more feasible source of electricity “let alone any more affordable.”
“The Biden administration is rushing to complete an expensive vanity project that would do little actual good for North Carolina,” he said.
BOEM is planning to create up to three commercial leases in the tract, documents show.
But even if a new lease moves forward, it doesn’t necessarily ensure a wind farm would be developed. The lease only grants a company the right to submit plans to develop the tract – and doesn’t actually grant any permissions. Surveys would be required, as would the installation of meteorological measurement devices. Any project would also have to meet several environmental approvals.
As part of the process, BOEM is hosting virtual public meetings to get public input. The first one happens Dec. 14 at 1 p.m., the second Dec. 15 at 5 p.m. The public has 30 days to submit comments on the lease proposal.
In the meantime, bidders have until Jan. 3 to submit qualification materials.
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